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Homicide

HOMICIDE

Homicide is a long-standing threat to a community's health, although it began to be widely recognized as a public health issue only in the 1990s. Homicide has traditionally been viewed through the lens of crime, though both criminal justice and public health approaches can be useful in efforts to reduce homicide.

Public health descriptions of homicide are based largely upon information provided on death certificates. In the United States, death certificate

Figure 1

information is reported to each county by funeral directors, physicians, and coroners. Each county reports the information to the state, which, in turn, reports it to the National Center for Health Statistics. These data cover every death (regardless of cause of death) for which there is a body. In vital statistics data, and for public health purposes, a homicide is defined as the death of a person at the hands of another.

Law enforcement data about crime are gathered by police and sheriff's officers at the local level, reported to a central agency at each state, and then forwarded on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Participating in The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) is a voluntary process, and about 85 percent of police departmentscovering 96 percent of the U.S. populationparticipated in UCR as of 1991. The data about homicides are reported in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Supplementary Homicide Report. The FBI defines a homicide as murderthe willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another.

In addition to murders, the public health definition of homicide includes legally sanctioned killings (e.g., executions or homicides in self-defense). The law enforcement definition, however, is limited to criminal homicides. Because the

Figure 2

definitions differ, the numbers of homicides reported by each system also differ. The overall patterns of risk, however, are the same.

EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM

Homicide rates in the United States peaked in 1993, dropped substantially, and the homicide rate in 1998 was the same as that in 1968 (see Figure 1). Although people were alarmed at the high homicide rates in the early 1990s, these rates have vacillated throughout the twentieth century. Historians believe that homicide rates were probably even higher in the Middle Ages in Europe.

The United States has a much higher homicide rate than other industrialized countries (see Figure 2). Although not included in the chart, it many be useful to note that among those countries reporting rates to the World Health Organization, Colombia actually has the highest rate by far146.5 homicides per 100,000 males. The discrepancy appears to be largely due to the much higher number of deaths due to firearms in the United States. Even when compared to other countries where firearms are relatively common, homicide

Figure 3

rates in the United States are higher, possibly because firearms in the United States are much more likely to be handguns, whereas in other countries the guns are most likely to be rifles and shotguns. Handguns are the leading method of homicide in the United States.

HOMICIDE RISK

Some people are at higher risk than others of becoming a homicide victim. Homicide victimization rates are highest for adolescents and young adults. Although the number of young people who are homicide victims has dropped since 1993, as it has for all age groups, adolescents and young adults continue to be the age group at highest risk of homicide. As shown in Figure 3, risk is higher for young men than young women, and risk is highest for young minority men, especially young African-American men.

Homicide is a major cause of mortality among infants and toddlers. In fact, homicide is the third leading cause of death of persons under five years or age. In most of these deaths, the assailant is the primary caretaker of the childeither a parent, stepparent, or partner of one of the parents. The most common method of death is by beating with personal weapons (i.e., hands, fists, or feet).

Although homicide rates are much higher among men than women, the rank of homicide as a cause of death is similar for men and women at all age groups. Firearms are the most common method of homicide for both male and female victims. The assailant and the location of the homicide differ by gender, however. Men are most likely to be killed by a friend or an acquaintance in a public place such as the street or a bar. Despite a general concern about "stranger danger," women are most likely to be killed by a current or former male intimate (i.e., a husband, boyfriend, exhusband, or former boyfriend) in the home. Research using data from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s found that a woman is more than two and one-half times as likely to be shot by her male intimate as to be shot, stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, or killed in any other way by a stranger.

Research indicates that having a gun in the home increases the chances that a person will become a victim of a homicide in the home and that a person will become a perpetrator of homicide, though more scientific research is needed before such risks can be assessed with confidence.

HOMICIDE AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Public health approaches to homicide are based largely in one of two frameworks: injury prevention and, for lack of a more specific descriptor, social change. Injury prevention traces its roots to Hugh De Haven, a World War I pilot who, after surviving an airplane crash, spent many years studying the dynamics of traumatic force upon the body. Subsequent work focused on motor vehicle crashes. Researchers found that trying to change human behavior (e.g., trying to get drivers to "drive defensively") did not work very well. In fact, some efforts, such as drivers' training, did not reduce crash or injury rates at all. Strategies that focused on the environment and the vehicle itself proved to be more successful. Roads were designed not just to get from point A to point B, but with injury prevention in mind. For example, rigid signposts and bridge abutments have been modified so that even if a vehicle veers off the roadway, an injury is not inevitable. Vehicles are now equipped with collapsible steering wheels, reinforced side doors, seat belts and airbags, and antilock brakes. In other words, efforts switched from preventing a crash from occurring to preventing an injury if a crash occurred.

Injury prevention practitioners and researchers took this same model from unintentional injury (i.e., car crashes, drownings, and other "accidents") into their work with homicide. They set their sights clearly and specifically on one question: If the violence cannot be stopped, how can the violence be made less lethal? Given that guns (handguns in particular) are used in most homicides, it is not surprising that injury prevention efforts related to homicide focus mainly on handguns. Public health efforts to reduce gun fatalities have focused largely on the manufacture of guns (e.g., "smart guns" that are personalized so that only an authorized user can shoot the weapon). Policies related to the marketing and advertising, sale, possession, and use of guns also are points of intervention.

The social change, or social justice, approach emphasizes the inequalities that might give rise to lethal violence. The epidemiological data presented in the figures document how risk differs across nations and across groups in the United States. The social justice approach tries to understand why these differences might exist, and to identify ways to remedy the situation. For example, why do minorities have a much greater risk than white people of dying of homicide? Areas of investigation include differences in socioeconomic status(e.g., income and education), limited opportunities (e.g., inner-city schools that are more likely to be attended by minorities generally are less well funded than suburban schools), and the effects of institutional racism (e.g., racial profiling by law enforcement).

Social change approaches seek to expand educational, recreational, and employment opportunities, especially for young people. Related approaches have attempted to increase adolescents' problem-solving and anger-management skills so that violence becomes an option, not an inevitability. Evaluations of such programs have produced inconsistent results. Some, such as W. R. Hammond and B. R. Yung, say certain programs are effective, whereas others, including D. W. Webster, find few positive effects.

The injury prevention and social change approaches need not be in competition, although they are sometimes cast that way. Efforts to reduce homicide will likely be more successful if a multifaceted approach, rather than one single strategy, is taken.

Susan B. Sorenson

(see also: Domestic Violence; Public Health and the Law; Violence )

Bibliography

Biderman, A. D., and Lynch, J. P. (1991). Understanding Crime Incidence Statistics: Why the UCR Diverges from the NCS. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Hammond, W. R., and Yung, B. R. (1991). "Preventing Violence in At-Risk African-American Youth." Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 2:359373.

Kellermann, A. L., and Mercy, J. A. (1992). "Men, Women, and Murder: Gender-Specific Differences in Rates of Fatal Violence and Victimization." Journal of Trauma 33:15.

Kellermann, A. L.; Rivara, F. P.; Rushforth, N. B.; Banton, J. G.; Reay, D. T.; Francisco, J. T.; Locci, A. B.; Prodzinski, J.; Hackman, B. B.; and Somes, G. (1993). "Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home." New England Journal of Medicine 329:10841091.

Kleck, G., and Hogan, M. (1999). "National Case-Control Study of Homicide Offending and Gun Ownership." Social Problems 46:275293.

Robertson, L. S. (1980). "Crash Involvement of Teenaged Drivers When Driver Education Is Eliminated from High School." American Journal of Public Health 70:599603.

Sorenson, S. B., and Saftlas, A. F. (1994). "Violence and Women's Health. The Role of Epidemiology." Annals of Epidemiology 4:140145.

Spierenburg, P. (1996). "Long-Term Trends in Homicide: Theoretical Reflections and Dutch Evidence, Fifteenth to Twentieth Centuries." In The Civilization of Crime: Violence in Town and Country since the Middle Ages, eds. E. A. Johnson and E. H. Monkkonen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Teret, S. P., and Wintemute, G. J. (1993). "Policies to Prevent Firearm Injuries." Health Affairs 12:96108.

Webster, D. W. (1993). "The Unconvincing Case for School-Based Conflict Resolution." Health Affairs 12:126141.

Zimring, F. E., and Hawkins, G. (1997). Crime Is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America. New York: Oxford.

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Homicide

HOMICIDE

The killing of one human being by another human being.

Although the term homicide is sometimes used synonymously with murder, homicide is broader in scope than murder. Murder is a form of criminal homicide; other forms of homicide might not constitute criminal acts. These homicides are regarded as justified or excusable. For example, individuals may, in a necessary act of self-defense, kill a person who threatens them with death or serious injury, or they may be commanded or authorized by law to kill a person who is a member of an enemy force or who has committed a serious crime. Typically, the circumstances surrounding a killing determine whether it is criminal. The intent of the killer usually determines whether a criminal homicide is classified as murder or manslaughter and at what degree.

English courts developed the body of common law on which U.S. jurisdictions initially relied in developing their homicide statutes. Early English common law divided homicide into two broad categories: felonious and non-felonious. Historically, the deliberate and premeditated killing of a person by another person was a felonious homicide and was classified as murder. Non-felonious homicide included justifiable homicide and excusable homicide. Although justifiable homicide was considered a crime, the offender often received a pardon. Excusable homicide was not considered a crime.

Under the early common law, murder was a felony that was punishable by death. It was defined as the unlawful killing of a person with "malice aforethought," which was generally defined as a premeditated intent to kill. As U.S. courts and jurisdictions adopted the English common law and modified the various circumstances that constituted criminal homicide, various degrees of criminal homicide developed. Modern statutes generally divide criminal homicide into two broad categories: murder and manslaughter. Murder is usually further divided into the first degree, which typically involves a premeditated intent to kill, and the second degree, which typically does not involve a premeditated intent to kill. Manslaughter typically involves an unintentional killing that resulted from a person's criminal negligence or reckless disregard for human life.

All homicides require the killing of a living person. In most states, the killing of a viable fetus is generally not considered a homicide unless the fetus is first born alive. In some states, however, this distinction is disregarded and the killing of an unborn viable fetus is classified as homicide. In other states, statutes separately classify the killing of a fetus as the crime of feticide.

Generally, the law requires that the death of the person occur within a year and a day of the fatal injury. This requirement initially reflected a difficulty in determining whether an initial injury led to a person's death, or whether other events or circumstances intervened to cause the person's death. As forensic science has developed and the difficulty in determining cause of death has diminished, many states have modified or abrogated the year-and-a-day rule.

Justifiable or Excusable Homicide

A homicide may be justifiable or excusable by the surrounding circumstances. In such cases, the homicide will not be considered a criminal act. A justifiable homicide is a homicide that is commanded or authorized by law. For instance, soldiers in a time of war may be commanded to kill enemy soldiers. Generally, such killings are considered justifiable homicide unless other circumstances suggest that they were not necessary or that they were not within the scope of the soldiers' duty. In addition, a public official is justified in carrying out a death sentence because the execution is commanded by state or federal law.

A person is authorized to kill another person in self-defense or in the defense of others, but only if the person reasonably believes that the killing is absolutely necessary in order to prevent serious harm or death to himself or herself or to others. If the threatened harm can be avoided with reasonable safety, some states require the person to retreat before using deadly force. Most states do not require retreat if the individual is attacked or threatened in his or her home, place of employment, or place of business. In addition, some states do not require a person to retreat unless that person in some way provoked the threat of harm. Finally, police officers may use deadly force to stop or apprehend a fleeing felon, but only if the suspect is armed or has committed a crime that involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious injury or death. A police officer may not use deadly force to apprehend or stop an individual who has committed, or is committing, a misdemeanor offense. Only certain felonies are considered in determining whether deadly force may be used to apprehend or stop a suspect. For instance, a police officer may not use deadly force to prevent the commission of larceny unless other circumstances threaten him or other persons with imminent serious injury or death.

Excusable homicide is sometimes distinguished from justifiable homicide on the basis that it involves some fault on the part of the person who ultimately uses deadly force. For instance, if a person provokes a fight and subsequently withdraws from it but, out of necessity and in self-defense, ultimately kills the other person, the homicide is sometimes classified as excusable, rather than justifiable. Generally, however, the distinction between justifiable homicide and excusable homicide has largely disappeared, and only the term justifiable homicide is widely used.

Other Defenses

Other legal defenses to a charge of criminal homicide include insanity, necessity, accident, and intoxication. Some of these defenses may provide an absolute defense to a charge of criminal homicide; some will not. For instance, a successful defense of voluntary intoxication generally will allow an individual to avoid prosecution for a premeditated murder, but typically it

will not allow an individual to escape liability for any lesser charges, such as second-degree murder or manslaughter. As with any defense to a criminal charge, the accused's mental state will be a critical determinant of whether he or she had the requisite intent or mental capacity to commit a criminal homicide.

Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide

The killing of oneself is a suicide, not a homicide. If a person kills another person in order to end the other person's pain or suffering, the killing is considered a homicide. It does not matter if the other person is about to die or is terminally ill just prior to being killed; the law generally views such a killing as criminal. Thus, a "mercy killing," or act of euthanasia, is generally considered a criminal homicide.

As medical technology advances and the medical profession is able to prolong life for many terminally ill patients, a person's right to die by committing suicide with the help of a physician or others has become a hotly contested issue. In the 1990s, the issue of physician-assisted suicide came to the forefront of U.S. law. Dr. jack kevorkian, a Michigan physician, helped approximately 130 patients to commit suicide. Michigan authorities prosecuted Kevorkian for murder on a number of occasions, but because aiding, assisting, or causing a suicide is generally considered to be separate from homicide, Kevorkian initially avoided conviction. Finally, in 1999, he was convicted of second-degree murder following the nationally televised broadcast of a videotape showing Kevorkian injecting a lethal drug into a patient. In 2000, the new england journal of medicine revealed a study showing that 75 percent of the 69 Kevorkian-assisted deaths that were investigated were of victims who were not suffering from a potentially fatal disease; five had no discernible disease at all. Instead, it appeared that many of the suicides were the result of depression or psychiatric disorder.

As of early 2003, only one state (Oregon) permitted physician-assisted suicide. However, at that time, similar laws had been introduced in Arizona, Hawaii, and Vermont. U.S. Attorney General john ashcroft sought a declaratory judgment that prescribing federally controlled drugs for the purpose of assisting suicide was not legitimate medical practice. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was expected to render a decision in the matter later that year.

further readings

Chan, Samantha. 2000. "Rates of Assisted Suicides Rise Sharply in Oregon." Student BMJ 11.

Kadish, Sanfor H., ed. 1983. Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. Vol. 2. New York: Free Press.

Lafave, Wayne R., and Austin W. Scott, Jr. 1986. Substantive Criminal Law. Vol. 2. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

"New Revelations About Dr. Death." 2000. Macleans 113.

Torcia, Charles E. 1994. Wharton's Criminal Law. 15th ed. New York: Clark, Boardman, Callaghan.

cross-references

Death and Dying; Insanity Defense.

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homicide

homicide (hŏm´əsīd), in law, the taking of human life. Homicides that are neither justifiable nor excusable are considered crimes. A criminal homicide committed with malice is known as murder, otherwise it is called manslaughter. A homicide is excusable if it is the result of an accident that occurred during a lawful act and that did not amount to criminal negligence. Justifiable homicides are intentional killings done in accordance with legal obligation, or in circumstances where the law recognizes no wrong. They include the execution of criminals in some states, killings necessary to prevent a felony or to arrest a suspected felon, and killings in self-defense. In some states of the United States, one may lawfully kill in resisting the unlawful invasion of a home or real property. Many states make a distinction between first and second degree murders. First degree murder is a homicide committed with deliberately premeditated malice, or with extreme and wanton malice. The conviction for first degree murder often carries a sentence of life imprisonment; in some states it can be punished by execution. Second degree murder is a lesser crime, in which a homicide is committed with malice but without deliberation or premeditation.

See B. L. Danto, The Human Side of Homicide (1982); J. M. Macdonald, The Murderer and His Victim (1986).

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homicide

homicide In law, killing of a person by another. The various legal definitions depend on the circumstances of the killing. A distinction is made between premeditated murder, murder with some mitigating circumstances (such as when the balance of the killer's mind is temporarily disturbed), justifiable homicide (which may sometimes include mercy-killing or the killing of a suspect by a police officer in a shoot-out), and killing by negligence.

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homicide

hom·i·cide / ˈhäməˌsīd; ˈhōmə-/ • n. the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another; murder: he was charged with homicide | two thirds of homicides in the county were drug-related. ∎  (Homicide) the police department that deals with such crimes: a detective from Homicide. ∎ dated a murderer.

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homicide

homicide1 killer of another human being. XIV. — (O)F. — L. homicīda, f. shortened stem of homō, homin- man + -cīda -CIDE1.
So homicide 2 killing of another human being. XIV. — (O)F. — L. homicīdium. Hence homicidal XVIII.

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homicide

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